The answer to what you can expect from a new electric car is this: it depends.
If you were to buy a vehicle such as the Nissan Leaf or the Chevrolet Volt, then what you will hear when you come to a complete stop is very quiet. It will be as if there is no car under you at all and you will have to look around several times before you realize you are driving a dedicated electric that is powered by lithium-ion batteries and that the charge is good for anywhere from 40 to 100 miles, depending on just how heavy your foot is and the manufacturer.
For example, Chevy has promised a vehicle with a 40-mile battery-powered round-trip capability. In other words, your car will travel pretty much soundlessly on its 144-volt DC electric motor for 40 miles. Chevrolet’s studies showed that this is about the average commute that the average driver is now doing to get back and forth to work. It uses current electric car technology.
Once you arrive home, all you have to do is plug in a special power cord, let the Volt sit all night and you’re ready for the next day’s automotive jousting. The Nissan Leaf is similar in concept except that it is lighter and will go farther on a charge. Both vehicles take advantage of the vehicle’s regenerative or “flywheel” braking effect where, rather than just letting the brakes eat up any energy, that energy is returned to the battery.
Then, of course, there’s the more standard hybrid electric. Consisting of old electric car technology, the power scheme actually costs gas because the gas and electric motors work at highway speeds and suck down gasoline. Yes, the Volt does have a small engine, but all it does is replace any charge drawn out of the electric power plant, as does the Leaf.